Can ‘Indo-Pacific Outlook’ declaration strengthen US-India-Bangladesh-Japan ties?

On the eve of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, Bangladesh has announced a balanced position on the Indo-Pacific. State Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday. Shahriar Alam presented the Indo-Pacific outline of Bangladesh to the journalists. What is the reason for the Indo-Pacific strategy or Quad member United States and Japan and Western influential country Britain to suddenly announce the position on the Indo-Pacific just before the Prime Minister’s official visit? Journalists wanted to know about this from the foreign minister and state minister. But they did not answer directly. But it is true, for the past few days, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was working on what will be the position of Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific.

 Bangladesh attaches importance to the implementation of the concept of a free, open, peaceful, secure and inclusive Indo-Pacific for the prosperity of all countries in the region. Various countries and alliances are working on participating in this strategy, which has been discussed for the past few years, focusing on India and the Pacific Ocean region. Considering the economic, trade and geopolitical importance of the countries, they have been talking about becoming partners in it. There is talk, the United States created the Indo-Pacific Strategy (Indo-Pacific Strategy-IPS) with the aim of preventing China’s hegemony. After the formation of the Joe Biden government, the strategy of the United States was also changed. Various countries including the European Union (EU), Japan, and others published their strategy papers earlier along the path of the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States. Even though this strategy has been formulated and implemented from their own position, those countries and alliances are trying to involve the countries of this region with that strategy. From the beginning, the United States wants Bangladesh to participate in this strategic alliance like other regional countries. The country has been calling for this since 2018. Efforts of various countries including the UK, European Union and Japan to pull Bangladesh into the Indo-Pacific strategy have been seen before, but the government has not said anything clearly. The government has been saying for a long time that it is interested in economic and regional stability, but no military action.

However, before Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s 15-day long visit to Japan on Tuesday, the Bangladesh government announced the outline in this regard. The Prime Minister will visit the US from Japan and will return on May 9 after attending a conference in the UK on his way back home. While announcing the Indo-Pacific outline, State Minister Shahriar Alam said, “You have asked the question many times for a long time and there is talk about the issue, that is – the position of Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific.” We have finalized an Indo-Pacific outline or outlook on behalf of Bangladesh.

Have you received any messages regarding the announcement of the Indo-Pacific position before the Prime Minister’s visit to Japan?  There is no doubt about the message. Because the importance of Bangladesh in geopolitics is recognized. However, this declaration of position is not military, but has more economic and commercial elements. Japan is becoming more prominent in the Indo-Pacific. Bangladesh should keep the balance despite these discussions during the Japan tour.

Bangladesh has to clarify its position on the Indo-Pacific so that no one can misunderstand or mislead. As a result, Bangladesh has moved to a better position. Because there will be important bilateral discussions with the Prime Minister during his visit to Japan. Before this, Japan clearly knew Bangladesh’s position on the Indo-Pacific. The country’s relationship with Bangladesh will move forward based on this position.

Earlier yesterday afternoon, the Bangladesh government released the Indo-Pacific outline with four basic principles and 15 objectives. In this regard, Bangladesh’s foreign policy has included issues such as non-interference in the internal affairs of foreign countries, peaceful resolution of international disputes, respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter, and avoidance of force in international relations. Bangladesh has emphasized economic prosperity in the Indo-Pacific framework and has carefully avoided defense issues. By announcing the outline, the positional vacuum of Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific region was filled. Analyzing the Indo-Pacific outline, it can be seen that Bangladesh has given importance to whatever security elements are necessary to achieve the economic goals. No comment on military matters was made in the outline.

This outline was being worked on for a long time. An outlook of about 14 pages was created last year, which has since been discontinued. Three parts of the Indo-Pacific contours of Bangladesh. The first is the introduction, the second part explains the guiding principles and the third part outlines the objectives. It is stated in the preamble of the outline that Bangladesh is a coastal country on the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh considers the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region as an important determinant in its development as a developed country. According to the outline, Bangladesh therefore attaches importance to realizing the vision of a free, open, peaceful, secure and inclusive Indo-Pacific for the prosperity of all concerned in the region. The outline has four basic principles. The first principle is the foreign policy motto of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ‘Friendship with all, enmity with none’. The second fundamental principle is Article 25 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, which states respect for national sovereignty and equality, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, peaceful resolution of international disputes, respect for international law and the principles outlined in the United Nations Charter, non-use of force in international relations, general and to continue unabated efforts for complete disarmament. The third principle is to comply with applicable UN treaties and other international conventions, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS, 1982. The latest policy is to strengthen constructive regional and international cooperation for sustainable development, international peace and security, humanitarian action and upholding fundamental rights and freedoms. In the objective part there are about 15 objectives to be achieved. These include connectivity, increasing trade and investment, enhancing regional partnership and cooperation, achieving maritime security, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, preventing organized transnational crime, achieving a culture of peace, technology transfer and innovation, protecting marine resources, food security and disaster mitigation, and health security. , cyber security and several other topics.

In geographical reality, the Indo-Pacific region is fast becoming the center of world politics and trade, analysts said. Due to the region’s geopolitical significance, huge maritime economic potential, vast markets and strategic location, major world powers have developed strategies for the Indo-Pacific region. Foreign investors are also interested in the region due to its growing importance.

The deep sea port at Matarbari in Bangladesh has become a strategic issue for Japan and India due to various reasons. Because the Quad partners aim to counter Chinese influence. The Chinese plan may also be discussed in the meeting between the two prime ministers in Japan. The geopolitical importance of Bangladesh’s first deep-sea port, Matarbari, was evident during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to India last March. The port has emerged as an important area for the free and open Indo-Pacific agenda. Again in the same month, the Japan International Cooperation Agency agreed to give a new loan of 165 billion yen (1.2 billion) to Bangladesh in the infrastructure construction sector. During her visit to New Delhi, Kishida said that Tokyo wants the development of the states from the Bay of Bengal to Northeast India with the cooperation of both Bangladesh and India in South Asia. For this reason, a discussion was held in Agartala a few days ago.

The Matarbari port would be at par with Sri Lanka’s Colombo port or Singapore port in terms of water depth. The northeastern Indian states, collectively known as the Seven Sisters, are landlocked by neighbors including China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Hence, Matarbari would not only be the most convenient port but also the most prudent choice for Indo-Japan, as New Delhi has much more cordial relations with Dhaka than its other neighbours. India is embroiled in a territorial dispute over the Himalayas and a regional power struggle with China. Myanmar is ruled by a military regime and is at war with many of its own people. Bangladesh-India-Japan will benefit from this opportunity.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, told reporters that geostrategy is a lot like real estate. Japan, Bangladesh’s biggest development partner for decades, has long been aware of the strategic significance, which is why it began working on developing a port there about five years ago. Now Bangladesh has become a battleground of superpower competition. China, with its infrastructure investments, has entered Bangladesh with great preparation. On the other hand, India’s Modi government has strengthened relations with Dhaka. Washington is also increasing ties with Dhaka to reduce commercial dependence on Beijing. All in all, Bangladesh’s geography and neutral foreign policy make it a magnet for these rivals. In fact, China and India are looking to finance the development of various parts of Mongla, another port in Bangladesh. Although Bangladesh has prioritized Japanese investment over Chinese in its first deep-sea port, Bangladesh will not let this port become a geopolitical plan to use one power against another.

According to an Indian journal analysis (India Narrative), Bangladesh is visibly and invisibly leaning towards the superpowers including the United States, China and Russia. But it also has friends and allies in the Middle East. India has been a proven friend, which has partnered Bangladesh’s development.

Bangladesh is now inching closer to embracing the Indo-Pacific Strategy. However, Bangladesh has never strayed from its founding principle of nonalignment and wisdom drawn from its independence hero Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which can be summed up as Friendship to all and malice toward none.

Bangladesh essentially aims to balance relations with rival states. Many explain that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina does not keep eggs in one basket. Thus, she wants to maintain diplomatic, economic and strategic partnerships albeit “unequally” with the United States, Russia, China, European Union, Arabs and of course India.

Bangladesh is moving closer to an embrace of the Indo-Pacific Strategy pursued by the Americans and its partners in the region, which revolves around countering China. This move comes as the US and a few key allies have signalled that Bangladesh should be a part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, according to the brief. Dhaka has friendly ties with the USA, and other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as the Quad) including India, and Europe.

The current governments in Bangladesh and India are very close, and New Delhi is likely to have encouraged Dhaka to embrace the strategy, according to the brief by Wilson Centre.

Even as Bangladesh embraces the Indo-Pacific Strategy, it is still trying to placate China. Dhaka’s draft Indo-Pacific Outlook stipulates that it seeks to avoid rivalries and has no security goals, read the brief.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – includes many states that have cordial relations with China – opted for the same term in its Indo-Pacific coalition. Dhaka has also not indicated that it would join the Quad. Several visits of high-profile dignitaries in recent times from the United States, United Kingdom and European Union enforce that “these countries would want Bangladesh to take part in the Indo-Pacific Strategy” read the brief.

To deepen relations with China, Bangladesh could certainly back off from the US Indo-Pacific Strategy. Bangladesh appears to believe its interests aren’t compromised by stretching the limits of nonalignment, according to the brief. However, this announcement ultimately can increase the confidence of the current regime in Bangladesh and strengthen its ties with the USA and India and also Japan. The strategic calculation of the region would be reshaped. Definitely, Bangladesh gets recognition, appreciation, and confidence from its allies USA, India. The ties would be an all-weather strategic partnership amongst India, USA, Japan and Bangladesh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *